Monday, December 31, 2007

Buzz from New Hampshire

Is Congressman Ron Paul headed for an impressive double-digit turnout in the New Hampshire presidential primary?

One editorial writer from the Granite State explores the possibility over at the Wall Street Journal.

South Carolina Senator Lyndsey Graham sees a movement for Ron Paul, too.


Very politically incorrect but hilarious:

Hat-tip: Sully.

Travelogue: The City of Angels

Saturday, during a break at the conference, I had the chance to get out of the hotel for a few hours and walk to some nearby sites in Downtown L.A. The nearest notable piece of architecture was the stunning Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall:

Not far from the hall was the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles:

Only about five years old, this modern cathedral is an awesome place. While its imposing boxy exterior may give some initial pause, the cathedral's interior design and works of art work are tremendous -- starting with its "Great Bronze Doors":

The most memorable art from the cathedral was "The Communion of Saints" -- the tapestries by John Nava that line the cathedral's nave. The saints depicted in the tapestries are from every age and place of the Catholic Church but placed randomly -- and even include a handful of images of unnamed young people. The tableau is inspired and thought-provoking.

The saints look forward into the center of the cathedral, as if processing to receive communion. Here's a close-up view of the upper half of one of the tapestries:

Finally, we concluded our tour by driving a short distance to a locally well-known sandwich joint called Philippes, "Home of the French Dipped Sandwich":

It was the kind of old school memorabilia-laden place any Pittsburgher would feel right at home. (Their Cole slaw was, however, a side dish and not under the bread.)

Tour guide: Jay.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

In Flight

Yesterday, here at the NCSC conference, I attended a workshop about Catholic social teaching on immigration issues and care for refugees.

The session was led by Marie Dennis, a laywoman and mother of six who directs the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns and is the new co-president of Pax Christi International. She's a Pittsburgh native, too.

The topic was especially appropriate considering that today is the Feast of the Holy Family with the Gospel at Mass that shows Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus in flight by night to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod.

When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”

Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”

He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee.

He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, He shall be called a Nazorean.

The image above shows an oil on canvas entitled "The Flight into Egypt." It is credited to James Lesesne Wells.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

"And the Glory of the Lord"

Since we are still in the midst of the 12 Days of Christmas, here is a selection from George Frederic Handel's "Messiah" for this week's "YouTube musical clip for a peaceful weekend."

The selection is "And the Glory of the Lord."


"A Lot Less A Lot Sooner"

Congressman Ron Paul on the situation in Pakistan via MSNBC and YouTube:

While I tend to be more internationally-minded than Dr. Paul, I think he's correct on this one. The Bush administration's involvement in Pakistani politics has been ineffective and perhaps even contributed to the current environment there.

Friday, December 28, 2007

NCSC in L.A.

Yesterday, I flew from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles where, today through January 1, I will be an exhibitor for my company at the 24th annual conference of the National Catholic Student Coalition (NCSC).

NCSC is an association of Catholic college and university students who are active in campus ministry programs -- often Newman Clubs and Catholic Student Associations. It's a pleasure to be here as an exhibitor as I was a member of NCSC myself back in the '90s.

The conference theme is: "Our Catholic Faith, Our World in Need." The keynote speaker is Kevin Kostic who heads Catholic Relief Services' "Campus Connection."

Good Translation

For many years, my high school friends and I had a tradition of going to the movies on Christmas night after we finished celebrating the holiday with our families.

We brought back that tradition this year -- even if the movie we saw was probably the least "Christmassy" film we could have chosen: "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." (We caught it at Destinta in Bridgeville, PA.)

Directed by Tim Burton, "Sweeney Todd" is a good translation to the screen of Stephen Sondheim's Tony-award winning 1979 musical of the same name. In fact, I think the piece may work better on the screen than it did on stage.

Make no mistake. "Sweeney Todd" is about revenge, mass murder and cannibalism. Blood and gore abound -- but are largely necessary to tell the tale.

Turning in excellent performances were Johnny Depp in the title role, Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett (a part originated on Broadway by Angela Lansbury) and Alan Rickman as Sweeney Todd's nemesis, the evil Judge Turpin.

I'd recommend "Sweeney Todd" to all those without sensitive stomachs.


Background on Benazir Bhutto:

Hat-tip: Andrew Sullivan

Thursday, December 27, 2007


It's rare when something occurs in the news that you can definitively point to as an event that will certainly change the course of history.

The assassination this morning of Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan is certainly such news.

Pakistan is a nuclear power with a large population and dangerous borders. The murder of a powerful political leader there has the potential to influence historical outcomes both in that region and across the globe.

The murder of a political figure in the midst of coming elections in any country is a blow to democracy everywhere. And, it's a reminder of how blessed we are here in the United States that we really do work out our issues at the ballot box -- and not by the brand of barbarism the world witnessed today.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

O Emmanuel

This (Sunday) evening, the final "O Antiphon" brings us to the one we know best from the traditional carol:

"O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations and their savior: come and save us, O Lord our God!"

In Latin via YouTube:

And, the complete carol inspired by the O Antiphons:

A Righteous Man

Today is the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. The Gospel at Mass brings us the story of St. Joseph and the vital role he played in salvation history.

From Matthew Chapter 1:

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.

When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.

Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said:

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

O King of nations

This (Saturday) evening's O Antiphon:

"O King of nations, and their Desired, the Cornerstone who makes all one: come and save our race, whom you formed out of clay."

In Latin, "O King of nations" is "O Rex Gentium":

On The Road

Tucker Carlson has a great story over at The New Republic about his experiences on the road with Congressman Ron Paul during a recent campaign swing through Nevada.

It's worth reading the whole thing but here's one good passage:

... in person, Paul doesn't seem like a freak. He seems like someone's grandfather. I first met up with Paul after a rally at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He apparently hadn't known I was coming but accepted my arrival with Zen-like calm, welcoming me into the seat next to him in the minivan and offering me baked goods from a plate on his lap. We were both finishing our brownies when he mentioned they'd been baked by a supporter. I stopped chewing. Where I work, this is a major taboo (Rule One: Never eat food sent by viewers), and my concern must have shown. Paul grinned. "Maybe they're spiked with marijuana," he said.

If so, it would have been his first experience with illegal drugs. Though Paul argues passionately for liberalizing marijuana laws and is beloved by potheads (Timothy Leary once held a fund-raiser for him), he has never smoked pot himself. He sounded shocked when I asked him.

"I have never seen anyone smoke marijuana," he said. "I don't think I'd be open to using it." For some people, libertarianism is the philosophical justification for a zany personal life. Paul, by contrast, describes his hobbies as gardening (roses and organic tomatoes) and "riding my bicycle." He has never had a cigarette. He doesn't swear. He limits his drinking to an occasional glass of wine and goes to church regularly. He has been married to the same woman for 50 years. Three of their five children are physicians.

Ron Paul is deeply square, and every bit as deeply committed to your right not to be. "I don't gamble, but I'm the gambler's best friend," he says, boasting of his support for online casinos. He is a Second Amendment absolutist who doesn't own a gun. "I've only fired one a couple of times in my life. I've never gotten around to killing anything." It's an impressively, charmingly principled world view, though sometimes you've got to wonder how much Paul has in common with many of the people who support him.

People Get Ready

One of my favorite musicians is Eva Cassidy (1963 - 1996). In trying to select this week's "YouTube musical clip for a peaceful weekend," I had hoped to find something by Eva related to Christmas. At first, it seemed like the only thing available was a cheesy video of one of her songs on top of some woman's pictures of her Christmas tree and boyfriend.

But, then I saw that Eva had done a beautiful rendition of (the often schmaltzy) "People Get Ready." It's absolutely an Advent song.

John the Baptist couldn't have said it better himself:

Friday, December 21, 2007

O Dayspring

Friday's O Antiphon:

"O Dayspring, brightness of eternal Light and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death."

From YouTube: "O Oriens":

Or, another version:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

O Key of David

Continuing with the "O" Antiphons, here is this (Thursday) evening's:

"O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel: you open and no one shuts; you shut and no one opens. Come and lead forth from this prison the captive sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death."

Or, in Latin, "O Clavis," via YouTube:

In Leg Chains at JFK?

If this story turns out to be accurate, I think it's safe to say we're going to see a nose-dive in tourism from Iceland.

The International Herald-Tribune has a follow-up.

Hat-tip: Sully.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The "O" Antiphons

For many Christians, a prayer tradition in these final days of Advent prior to Christmas is the recitation of the great "O" Antiphons traditionally sung at evening vespers. (The hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" paraphrases the O Antiphons.)

There is a specific "O" for each day from December 17 to December 23. Monday, the antiphon began with "O Wisdom." Tuesday, the antiphon began with "O Adonai." Today (Wednesday), the antiphon began "O Root of Jesse."

Here are three YouTube videos of these ancient prayers chanted in Latin:

For December 17:

For December 18:

For December 19:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tucker Carlson Gets It

Tucker Carlson of MSNBC also conducted a good interview yesterday with Ron Paul's campaign chairman about the "money bomb" that Sunday reportedly raised the campaign more than $6 million in Internet contributions (average donation of about $100 and more than 24,000 first-time donors).

Kudos to Carlson for giving Ron Paul's campaign some equal time:

On "Now"

On Friday, "Now" on PBS aired a story on Congressman Ron Paul's bid for the White House. Here's some of it from a YouTube clip:

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sully Endorses Ron Paul

Andrew Sullivan today endorsed Congressman Ron Paul in the race to be the GOP nominee for President in 2008.

The closing of his brilliant argument:

But the deeper reason to support Ron Paul is a simple one. The great forgotten principles of the current Republican party are freedom and toleration. Paul's federalism, his deep suspicion of Washington power, his resistance to government spending, debt and inflation, his ability to grasp that not all human problems are soluble, least of all by government: these are principles that made me a conservative in the first place. No one in the current field articulates them as clearly and understands them as deeply as Paul. He is a man of faith who nonetheless sees a clear line between religion and politics. More than all this, he has somehow ignited a new movement of those who love freedom and want to rescue it from the do-gooding bromides of the left and the Christianist meddling of the right. The Paulites' enthusiasm for liberty, their unapologetic defense of core conservative principles, their awareness that in the new millennium, these principles of small government, self-reliance, cultural pluralism, and a humble foreign policy are more necessary than ever - no lover of liberty can stand by and not join them.

He's the real thing in a world of fakes and frauds. And in a primary campaign where the very future of conservatism is at stake, that cannot be ignored. In fact, it demands support.

Go Ron Paul!

Here. Here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Andrew Young on Barack, Bill & Blackness

With friends like these ...

The Clinton circus is back in town.

Pursuing the Clues

The December 10 edition of America, the national Catholic weekly magazine published by the Jesuits, included a good article entitled "The Eye and I: Do the questions science poses diminish the God of faith?".

The article was written by Fr. William J. O'Malley, S.J., a teacher at Fordham Prep in the Bronx.

Good snip:

Science still yields plenty of clues to a Designer, who might not be as intrusive as we have been led to believe. Every planet circles the sun at precisely the one speed that will keep it from drifting into deep space or crashing into the sun. The four fundamental forces in the universe are gravity (the attractive pull of every body), electromagnetism (bonding atoms), the strong nuclear force (binding elements within the nucleus) and the weak force (radioactive decay). If any of these forces were even minutely different, the advent of humans would have been unthinkable. In fact, according to Stephen Hawking, “If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, it would have recollapsed before it reached its present size.” Conversely, if gravity were weaker, Big Bang dust would have just continued to expand, never coalescing. If the strong nuclear force were a little weaker, no elements heavier than hydrogen would have formed. If electromagnetism were stronger, electrons would be so tightly bound to atoms, chemical compounds would have been impossible. Any weaker, and atoms would disintegrate at room temperature.

Miller writes: “As His great creation burst forth from the singularity of its origin, His laws would have set within it the seeds of galaxies, stars, and planets, the potential for life, the inevitability of change, and the confidence of emerging intelligence.” God works not in the intimate, palpable anthropomorphism of Genesis, kneeling in the mud to fashion Adam and turn his rib into Eve, but God is—and always will be—vibrant and at work in every physical law that evolution presumes.

and ...

Perhaps we might find more motivated belief if we were more at peace with intriguing questions than prefabricated conclusions, if we could stop needing to prove anything and delight in pursuing the clues.

The image above, taken from the
America Website, is of the Cat's Eye nebula, an interstellar cloud of gas and dust.


Today is the third Sunday of Advent or Gaudete Sunday. The Gospel at Mass provides and explanation by Jesus himself of His relationship in salvation history with John the Baptist.

From Matthew Chapter 11:

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question:

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Jesus said to them in reply:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John:

“What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.

"Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

The image above shows the oil transferred to canvas "San Juan Bautista" by the Italian painter Andrea del Sarto (1486-1531). It lives at the Worchester Art Museum.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Phat Man Dee in NYC

Last night, we checked out some live music quite different from that offered up by Cake Thursday at Terminal 5. The location was the small "living room" concert space of the Gershwin Hotel on 27th Street in NYC. The performer was Phat Man Dee, the sultry songstress from Pittsburgh's South Side.

Like so many young performers who came out of the '90s, Phat Man Dee is hard to categorize. Nate Guidry of the Post-Gazette wrote earlier this year of her new album, "Torch of Blue": "It combines elements of jazz with Middle Eastern hooked rhythms, electronic music and mandolin guitar, poetry and improvisation."

If I remember correctly, there was a time when a Phat Man Dee show may have included glass swallowing, fire eating and other assorted activities. But, none of that happened at the Gershwin. It was all about the music. Joined by Pittsburgh guitarists Colter Harper and Tony DePaolis, PMD was in excellent form. She has a full head of hair again, too -- the shaved head and pig tails look is a thing of the past.

For sentimental reasons, my favorite tune of the night has to be the Kennywood-inspired "Ride the Roter." I also enjoyed PMD's take on "Dona Nobis Pacem."

For this week's YouTube musical clip for a peaceful weekend, below is a compilation of some PMD pieces done by the woman herself:

An aside: Colter Harper is going out next week on a new tour with that other band from the 'burgh: Rusted Root.

Pittsburgh-related aside #2: Kennywood has been sold.

Cake on the West Side

Thursday night, I joined Kelvin and crew for a concert featuring the California band Cake at Terminal 5 on the West Side in NYC. It was a pretty good show. Here's a YouTube video below from the concert taken by someone who was standing near our vantage point on the floor. It's the Cake song "Stick Shifts and Safety Belts":

Here's a closer-up video taken by another concert-goer from the second level of Terminal 5 during "The Distance":

One of the way some people know Cake is by the band's cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." They didn't perform that Thursday night but, here's that video as well for your viewing pleasure:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today, December 12, Catholics celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe -- our belief that in 1531, on a hill outside Mexico City, the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego, an indigenous Mexican.

It is believed that the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, pictured above, miraculously appeared on St. Juan Diego's cloak.

It is a much-loved image for many Catholics but especially for the Faithful in Mexico and other parts of the Americas. (In 1999, JPII affirmed Our Lady of Guadalupe as the "Patroness of the Americas" and her feast became a solemnity for Catholics throughout the Western Hemisphere.)

But, the traditional image often has been artistically updated through the centuries. Below is one stunning modern-day take:

Hat-tip for the modern OLOG: The Deacon's Bench.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Candidate Calculator

I entered my preferences today into the "Candidate Calculator." Here's my breakdown on the GOP candidates for president:

Ron Paul - 93.42%
John McCain - 47.37%
Mike Huckabee - 35.53%
Mitt Romney - 25%
Rudy Giuliani - 10.53% (I'm surprised it was that low.)

Hat-tip: Inside Catholic.

Monday, December 10, 2007

In Memoriam: Sean Doherty, 1960 - 2007

I have never been a huge sports fan. Like most native Western Pennsylvanians, I make a point to know how the Steelers are doing but, usually, that's mostly it.

However, when I was back in PA, I always enjoyed catching the weekday morning sports briefs on WDUQ 90.5 FM, Pittsburgh's NPR affiliate.

I listened for those morning sports briefs because of the distinctive voice and personality of DUQ sports director Sean Doherty -- and his quirky interactions with morning jazz host Bob Studebaker.

It was thanks to Doherty and Studebaker that I had some general sports knowledge -- especially about basketball and hockey, of which I never knew much.

DUQ and the P-G report that Sean Doherty died Saturday night at the age of 47.

A voice of the Steel City has gone silent.

An aside: I loved it when Doherty referred to Heinz Field as "the mustard palace."

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Crying Out in the Desert

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent. The Gospel at Mass brought us strong words of warning from John the Baptist (shown in the icon above).

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.

At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

"I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Search for Jackie Paris

Last night, we saw the documentary film "'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris" at Cinema Village on 12th Street & University Place.

It's the story of jazz singer and guitarist Jackie Paris (1924 - 2004), a native of Nutley, New Jersey. Paris was considered a great "singer's singer" in the '40s and '50s but never found the stardom of the likes of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett.

In his heyday, Jackie Paris toured with Charlier Parker, recorded an early version of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight," and was a favorite of Charles Mingus and Peggy Lee. He also recorded a version of "Skylark" that seems less cheesey than the treatment that tune usually receives.

In addition to trying to explain why his career as a singer and guitarist never took flight, the documentary looks at Paris' personal and familial relationships and, in doing so, provides another example of a conflicted artists' life of that era.

I had never heard of Jackie Paris prior to seeing this documentary. I'm glad I now have. He was a cool character.

An aside: As a native of Washington County, Pennsylvania, it was hard to watch this film without making comparisons between Jackie Paris and Canonsburg's Perry Como and Bobby Vinton.

Friday, December 07, 2007

On Faith in Public Life

Peggy Noonan has a smart summary in today's Wall Street Journal on Mitt Romney's speech yesterday in Texas on the role of a presidential candidate's religion.

Money quote from Noonan's column:

Romney reintroduced himself to a distracted country -- Who is that handsome man saying those nice things? -- while defending principles we all, actually, hold close, and hold high.

My take? Less positive than Noonan's. Mitt Romney, you are no Jack Kennedy.

Hat-tip: The Deacon's Bench.

City Sidewalks ...

For this week's "YouTube musical clip for a peaceful weekend," I give you the Christmas classic "Silver Bells" as it was presented for the first time in the otherwise forgotten 1951 comedy film "The Lemon Drop Kid" sung by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell.

"Silver Bells" was written by the Academy Award-winning songwriting duo of Jay Livingston (1915 - 2001) and Ray Evans (1915 - 2007). Livingston grew up in my hometown of McDonald, PA -- in a house just three blocks from my old apartment.

Evans and Livingston also created "Que Sera Sera," "Mona Lisa," the themes for the TV shows "Bonanza" and "Mr. Ed," and other great tunes.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

St. Nicholas Day

For many Christians around the world, today, December 6, is the Feast of St. Nicholas.

For the story of how this Bishop of Myra (in what is modern-day Turkey) who lived sometime in the 300s A.D. ...

... became this much loved and venerated saint in northern Europe ....

... and later transformed into our jolly old elf here in America ...

... go here and here.

Image Credits:

The medieval fresco depicting St Nicholas is from the Boyana Church, near Sofia, Bulgaria. The church is a UNESCO Heritage Site.

The oak sculpture above is called "Saint Nicholas with the Three Boys in the Pickling Tub." According to Wikipedia, it's South Netherlandish, c. 1500 and housed at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Gift to the museum by J. Pierpont Morgan, 1916.

The Coca-Cola advertisement was done in 1931 by Haddon Sundblom.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hanukkah 2008

This evening marks the beginning of Hanukkah in 2008. I hope it's a joyous and spiritual time for all those who celebrate it.

Below is Adam Sandler performing his "Hanukkah Song." It's irreverent but fun:

And the most recent version:

Hat-tip: Ed Gromacki's MySpace.

Recapturing the Spirit

The last few years, I have to admit, I have found it difficult to get into the Christmas spirit.

I think it had to do with the Christmas season falling in the gap between election cycles during which, frankly, I was never ultimately successful. I'm almost ashamed to concede that, last year, I was in such a funk that I didn't even put up a Christmas tree in my McDonald apartment (something I always enjoyed immensely).

And, when you're 30-something and single without children, there's just not that sense of anticipation and awe that you feel when either you are a kid yourself or there are kids around you regularly.

So, perhaps this Advent, my first back in NYC, it would be good to try to again embrace the Christmas spirit. For some kick-off inspiration, perhaps for both me and you, gentle reader, below is Nat King Cole singing "The Christmas Song" compliments of YouTube:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Kevin meets B16

The "Catholic nerd" in me feels compelled to share this:

Last week, my friend, Kevin Ahern, met the pope. Not only did he meet the pope -- Kevin gave remarks listened to by B16 himself during a Vatican meeting of Catholic non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

And, compliments of his Facebook page, he's got the pics to prove it:

Kevin, now a graduate student in theology at Boston College, recently completed a four-year term as the president of the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS) -- only the second American to ever hold the post that is based in Paris.

He came to that role through his work with the U.S.-based National Catholic Student Coalition (NCSC), an association of Catholic college and university students involved in campus ministry.

Kevin learned about NCSC after attending the organization's 1998 conference in Washington, D.C., with the Newman Club at NYU, a group I was proud to help organize back in that era.

Congratulations, Kevin! You have made us very proud!

Monday, December 03, 2007

George Will: " man, Ron Paul"

Check out the YouTube clip below in which George Will states, "Don't forget about my man, Ron Paul, here." (perhaps facetiously).

I don't know anything about the underlying song so I'm not necessarily endorsing that. But, when I saw this segment on "This Week" a few Sundays ago, I hoped someone who put it on YouTube -- and the editing here is excellent.

For your consideration:

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Therefore, Stay Awake!

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first day of the new liturgical year and the start of the season of anticipation leading to Christmas.

The Gospel at Mass finds Jesus telling his disciples to be prepared for the coming of God.

From the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 24:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

"In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.

"So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake!

"For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the househad known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

David Wilcox

Friday, my old college buddy Anthony Santella entered the ranks of the 30-somethings.

To mark the occasion, Anthony, Heather and I travelled that evening to Montclair, NJ, for a concert by folk singer/songwriter David Wilcox sponsored by Outpost in the Burbs.

For the latest installment of the YouTube musical clip for a peaceful weekend, below is Wilcox at another show performing his tune "Language of the Heart":

And some background:

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Red Ribbon on the North Portico

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day. To commemorate the day, the White House has displayed a huge red ribbon on the North Portico:

(The White House photo photo above is credited to Eric Draper.)

And, from Andrew Sullivan:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Brilliant but Disturbing

Last Sunday, while I was still back in Pittsburgh, we had the chance to see two additional movies I've been remiss in mentioning here.

The first was "No Country For Old Men," a brilliantly-conceived but disturbing offering from the Coen Brothers (creators of "Fargo").

Based on a novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, the film is about a psychopathic killer, a small town sheriff and a random man who comes across the scene of a multiple murder related to drug smuggling in a desert area near El Paso, Texas.

Javier Bardem, a superb actor who has been a favorite since "Before Night Falls," portrays the killer.

"NCFOM" has received positive reviews (even from the USCCB) but, to be honest, I don't think I would recommend it. It's violent in the extreme in its exploration of how one human being can so ruthlessly shed blood.

The other movie we caught Sunday was "Across the Universe," Julie Taymor's homage on film to the music of The Beatles.

This one I likely would recommend.

Basically a movie-length music video, "ATU" was visually-stunning if sappy and over-indulgent in places.

I liked how Taymor and team presented several of the tunes, notably "Dear Prudence."

Debate Watch

Earlier tonight, I watched the later half of the Republican Presidential candidates CNN/YouTube debate at the Ron Paul NYC headquarters on West 29th Street and 10th Avenue. Some 80 supporters turned out for the debate watch party -- making it a standing-room only event.

I thought it was a very good forum. The debate, moderated by CNN's Anderson Cooper, featured questions from Americans posed via YouTube videos. Here are some compelling moments:

And, for fun:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

In Memoriam: Jack Schwartz, 1920 - 2007

The small town of Midway, PA, has lost another one of its great old-timers: Jack Schwartz. He passed away yesterday at the age of 86.

As you can read in his O-R obituary, Mr. Schwartz was a longtime educator and community leader. Notably, he was the first principal of Fort Cherry High School after the consolidation in the late 1950s of the one-town school systems.

I had the opportunity to get to know Mr. Schwartz during my State House campaigns and through our common association with the local Lions Clubs. And, I had the chance to get to know him even better when my younger brother married his granddaughter in 2005.

Mr. Schwartz's great sense of humor and tremendous community dedication were infectious. His passing leaves a void that will be hard to fill. He will be missed.

(Photos from the Midway Lions Club Website by Joe & Louise Winters. Mr. Schwartz is pictured above with his wife, Pat.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Servant King & Good Thief

Many Christians celebrate today as the Solemnity of Christ the King and the last Sunday of the liturgical year. On this day, we remember Jesus' heavenly kingship.

The Gospel at Mass shows Christ at the height of what perhaps could be called his servant kingship -- the hours he spent hanging on the Cross. The passage also gives us the "Good Thief" -- whose dialogue with Jesus has given hope to men and women for centuries.

From Luke Chapter 25:

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God."

Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out,"If you are King of the Jews, save yourself."

Above him there was an inscription that read,"This is the King of the Jews."

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us."

The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal."

Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Live from Crazy Mocha

I'm writing tonight from Crazy Mocha, a coffee shop on East Carson Street in Pittsburgh at the South Side Works. We just saw "Enchanted," a Disney-produced spoof of Disney fairy tales. It combined animation with live action scenes on the streets of NYC.

Every 11- to 15-year-old girl in America should go see this movie. The mostly positive reviews it's been receiving are on the mark. Amy Adams, who plays the princess-to-be, is excellent.

Patrick Dempsey (who I find annoying as Dr. McDreamy on "Grey's Anatomy") wasn't bad as her real-life true love. Although, I still think Dempsey's entire career has been based on that damn chin and jawline.

My partner in crime tonight is Heidi Price, late of the Observer-Reporter and now a PR flack for a major university in the Pittsburgh's East End. ("I object to PR flack," she's saying. "Just so I'm on the record.")

Heidi's been moonlighting as a freelancer for Pop City Media, a e-zine about all things cool in the 'burgh. "A cutting-edge e-zine," she injects. Check out the link for her stories there, including her favorite piece on Strip District personalities including a lady she (and everyone else) calls "Dear Heart."

("It's not my favorite," Heidi is insisting over her espresso milkshake. "It's the favorite of people everywhere -- like in West Virginia and Maryland.")

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

No Lines. No Stress. No Business?

I'm currently sitting at the USAirways terminal at LaGuardia Airport waiting for my Thanksgiving weekend flight to PIT.

I have to say -- this terminal is a shadow of its former self. There was a time, at least in the 90s, when it was very busy here on the evening prior to a major holiday.

Tonight? Nothing. No lines. No crowded gates. Nada. I walked right up to both the ticket counter and the security checkpoint.

Don't get me wrong. As a consumer, I'm grateful for the quick and easy service. The lack of stress is great. But, what does this mean for USAirways?

Oh, there is one similarity to those bygone days of pre-holiday madness here at the LaGuardia USAirways terminal:

My flight has been delayed an hour.

Full of Thanks

Tomorrow (Wednesday), after work, I have a ticket for a flight from LGA to PIT that, God willing, will take me home to McDonald, PA, for Thanksgiving.

I love my hometown but, in recent months, I have discovered it does have one shortcoming -- no public wifi. So, as my blogging opportunities in the next couple days may be few, below is an early YouTube musical selection for a peaceful weekend.

It's a tune that's both incredibly "American" and full of thanks -- "Shenandoah":

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Over at Whispers in the Loggia, a post today included this photo that caught my eye:

Credited to Randall Benton of the Sacramento Bee, the stunning photo shows the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in the California capital during the Welcoming Mass for the Diocese of Sacramento's new coadjutor bishop, Jaime Soto.

Here's Benton's exterior shot of the Cathedral just as the Mass was beginning:

In fact, if you're interested, there's an excellent slide show of the occasion.

In March of this year, I had the opportunity to attend a Mass celebrated by Bishop Soto during the L.A. Religious Education Congress.


Buried deep in the NYT Website, there is a slide show with images from the tragedy in Bangladesh.

Here is one of the images:

The photo above is credited to Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images. Caption: Masud's mother, Toslima, mourned his death on Monday.

Caritas in on the scene.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thousands Dead -- Has Anyone Noticed?

It has been reported that more than 3,000 people may have been killed by a cyclone that Thursday struck Bangladesh's southwest coast.

Hundreds of thousands may be displaced.

Is it just me or is no one talking about this? It's not even currently a lead story on many major news Websites.

The photo above from The New York Times is credited to Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images. Caption: People waited for relief goods on Monday in the village of Maithachomohoni in the southern coastal area of Bangladesh.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Juice Boxes All Around

Rob Rogers, editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has recently had two smart offerings regarding the re-election earlier this month of Mayor Opie.

Here you go:

Kudos to the folks at the P-G on this one. They did everything they could.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus gives direction about the end times but, I think, may also be saying something about how we should live each day.

While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, "All that you see here -- the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."

Then they asked him, "Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?"

He answered, "See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,’ and 'The time has come.’ Do not follow them!
"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end."

Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.

"Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.

"It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.

"You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives."

Friday, November 16, 2007

Martin Crane for President?

Michael Smerconish over at The Philadelphia Inquirer is flirting with Ron Paul:

... the more I talk to Ron Paul, the more sense he makes to me. I've ended both my recent conversations with him more intrigued, even enamored, than when we began.

I think that's because in a political world epitomized by the constant hedging of candidates scared their one false move will end up on YouTube, Dr. Paul is something of a throwback. He's plainspoken, direct and mad as hell. And that's what I find so refreshing. Even when I disagree with him.

Hat-tip: Andrew Sullivan.

An aside: Cousin Casey thinks Ron Paul looks like John Mahoney, the great character acter who played Martin Crane in "Frasier."

You be the judge:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Air" from the Windy City

For this weekend's YouTube musical clip, here is one of the most peaceful pieces of music ever written: "Air" from Bach's Ouverture No.3 in D major, BWV 1068.


Bobby McFerrin has performed this piece, too:

An aside:

I am writing this from Chicago where, tomorrow and Saturday, we are exhibitors at the Archdiocese of Chicago's annual catechetical conference. Here's hoping that, on this trip, I get to see more than the inside of a hotel and convention center.

Innate Dignity

Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, pictured above, recently withdrew from the crowded Republican field for President.

Reflecting on the campaign trail, he penned an excellent column for Monday's Washington Post calling for religious conservatives to embrace what he calls a "whole life" ethic -- what the late Cardinal Bernardin and others called "the consistent-life ethic" or the "seamless garment of life."

Here is Senator Brownback's column in full:

Faith in a Winning Message
By Sam Brownback

One of the great things about running for president is that you get a good sense of what Americans are thinking. I found a great love of our country and great concern for its future in the hearts of Americans.

There is, unfortunately, a lot of fear as well. There is apprehension about the war, the economy and health care. In particular, there is concern in many quarters about the future of the faith-based movement.

Message is all-important. I believe the biggest threat to our future as a movement is a negative public face, when we don't project a welcoming and hopeful message based on an authentic faith.

The future of the conservative movement in our country will be strong if we can be moved by genuine faith and love for mankind, but not by political power.

On the campaign trail I talked about being pro-life and whole-life.

This is, first and foremost, recognition of the fundamental dignity of every human person. It says that every person, at every stage and in every place, is a beautiful and unique child of God. It says that every life, everywhere, has value and is worth fighting for.

I think this is a winning message.

Unfortunately, the GOP primary process this year, as in times past, has been more focused on "electability" than message. I believe that's the wrong focus.

Recent history has shown that, as a party, when we focus on message, we win; when we get bogged down with questions about which personality is most "electable," we lose.

The pro-life message is both hopeful and winning. We know that America is better than abortion. We ought to work for a society where the strong protect the weak and every child, in every circumstance, is welcomed and cared for. The truth of our message is undermined, however, if we are not among the first to support adoption and assist pregnant women in difficult circumstances. We must support women in every way we can.

The pro-life and whole-life message does not stop with abortion. It embraces the child in Darfur, the woman struggling in poverty, the child born with Down syndrome, the man in prison and even the immigrant.

It has led me to spend nights in prisons in America and to visit homeless shelters, orphanages and refugee camps across the world. I have tried to understand the difficult circumstances in people's lives and ways that we can help. Some of the most profound people I have met possess souls that radiate a beauty that comes from finding strength and hope amid hardships unimaginable to most Americans.

The fundamental truth of human dignity can shed light on every issue. It means that we should help the poor in America, reduce prison recidivism rates and fight addiction by helping others break the bonds they cannot break themselves.

It means we ought to stand for marriage as the unique bond that can bring new life into the world. It means we should have an economy that helps families, honors freedom and shows compassion to those in need.

This philosophy welcomes the immigrant and has mercy on the prisoner. While we must secure the border and enforce the law, we cannot forget that every immigrant, whatever his or her status, is a person with innate dignity. This is our duty to the "foreigner amongst us" (Deuteronomy 10:18). A wise man once told me that we get into trouble when we look at people as problems and not as people.

The same can be said for those in prison. While we must protect society and enforce our laws, the prisoner, too, is a child of a loving God. I am glad to support programs that help prisoners deal with their problems and ease their return to society so that they don't find themselves back in jail. And unless society cannot otherwise be protected, we should not use the instrument of death but instead should seek to build a culture that values every life.

Human dignity has a significant bearing on the question of faith in the public square. I am convinced that a society that celebrates faith will have greater respect for human dignity. Atheistic communism ran counter to human nature when it tried to create a society without God. Such a society will never honor human dignity because it turns man in on himself, instead of outward in love.

The conservative movement in America will succeed to the degree that it is faith-filled. We must exude the virtues of authentic faith: joy, hope and love. Our movement must be more compassionate, loving and welcoming.

It doesn't mean we abandon our principles. Of course we will continue to stand for life, marriage and faith in the public square. The question is whether we move forward as bold people of faith, focused on compassion instead of judgment and dedicating our daily lives to witnessing instead of winning.

The writer is a Republican senator from Kansas.